Rewind: Mt. Baker in a day

Though I originally intended to get this done before I left for Denali, it didn’t happen. So here’s to catching up.

Mt. Baker is named for a third lieutenant of George Vancouver’s expedition. I imagine the dialogue aboard his ship went something like this:

Lt. Baker: “Hey, what’s that big snowy mountain over there?”
Vancouver: “I don’t know. I guess we’ll call it Mt. Baker, Lieutenant.”

Prior, it had been called Koma Kulshan by the native Lummi people, which essentially meant “white sentinel.” Fair enough. The Spaniards that showed up, fowled an anchor just north of Orcas island, and called it “La Gran Montana del Carmelo” appear to have been ignored as well. So we’re stuck with Mt. Baker.

My history with the peak goes back to summer of 2011. Though I was living and working on Orcas Island in the San Juans, three weekends of June saw me skiing up there. The first trip involved whiskey and jumping over tents. Then Grant and I kicked off our ski mountaineering partnership with a single day ski ascent of the north side. We got fogged out at 7500ft, but came back the next weekend. After camping at 6900ft, we popped out of clouds around 8000ft. A few hours of cramponing saw us on the summit. We skied off in 2pm corn.

Coming back to the PNW this spring, I had designs to go back up there. Some friends from Squamish were headed down. We met up in Bellingham, packed the cars, and drove up towards the Heliotrope trailhead in the late afternoon.

This would be a good place to put a picture, but it was really dark.

After a few hours of sleep, Carl shook me awake at 2am. We had some quick breakfast and started off by carrying our skis through the patches of snow, gravel, and asphault. After a little over a mile, we could skin. Rangers had told us that it was about three miles before the trailhead proper. Once there, we followed a snowshoe trail off into the woods. It took some doing, and eventually, we popped out of the trees just as the sky was lighting up.

Carl getting after some sunscreen.

Iris headed up one of Carl’s absurd TLT5 switchbacks.

Iris’ Achilles had been bothering her, so she decided to meet up with us on our way back. Carl and I roped up, put on ski crampons, and blasted off. I was in the back, doing my best to keep up with Carl’s massive strides. It’s the curse of being hobbitish with giant ski partners.

As the first real test of my B&D ski crampons, I’ve got to say that I was impressed. The grip is insane, they move well, and aside from some balling directly under them that I chalk up to skins that needed wax, no problems.

Carl around 8500ft on the Coleman/Demming route.

At the base of the Roman Wall, we switched to crampons. Somewhere right after, I started to feel the elevation and exertion. We’d come up 9K in only twelve hours.

Near the top of the Roman Wall. The wide shot is Iris’, and if you look closely, you can see us just below the top.

Once over the lip, we sandwiched on the summit for a bit. Carl was fine. My head was swimming a little from the elevation. We’d gone up nearly 11K since leaving Bellingham less than 18 hours before. The ascent from the car was just under 8K. Given that the conditions were perfect and we’d be able to drop several thousand feet quickly on our skis, it wasn’t too much of a worry.

As my first really big touring day on my new Tychoons, I was stoked to see that they performed so well. Light and fast on the uphill. They handle the mix of conditions I usually find in the alpine really well. And after shredding on bigger skis during the winter, it’s nice to take a break for something that moves so easily. The Tychoon features minimal tip rocker as well, which really helps it plane as the snow gets wetter at lower elevations.

Carl drops in.

And I had a blast too.

We met up with Iris, and skied slush most of the way back to the car. Many of the angles on Baker are really nice–long, consistent fall lines that you can just scream down. Certainly one of the more fun ski descents I’ve done.

Thanks to Iris and Carl for their company and photos.

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